A Walmart Spark driver in Rogers, Arkansas, has noticed a pattern when it comes to customer tipping.
Deliveries to higher-income neighborhoods tend to leave smaller tips than lower-income areas, she told BI.
She said tipping culture says a lot about how society values service workers' time.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a driver in Rogers, Arkansas, who delivers primarily with Walmart Spark. She requested anonymity to avoid professional repercussions. Business Insider has verified her employment and identity. The story has been edited for length and clarity.
I've been driving for Spark for about six months. I got laid off from my regular job in November, so I'm doing this until I get a new corporate gig. It has become my full-time, very stressful job until I can get hired somewhere new, but it's pretty slim pickings right now.
I've worked in food service. I've waited tables, tended bar, and barbacked. I've worked for wedding-planning services and other service gigs for supplemental income to my corporate salary.
Earlier this month, I delivered a heavy, multiple-trips-to-the-door load to a gated community that's 17 minutes from the store, and they tipped me $1.50.
The next day, I brought a COVID test, a sub sandwich, two cartons of orange juice, and some hand sanitizer to an apartment complex, and I got tipped $10. Later that day, another customer at a nearby apartment tipped more than $12 on an $80 grocery order.
I understand part of how rich people stay rich is that they don't give their money away, but when they use this service for convenience and tip poorly, it tells me that they don't see me as a person.
They don't consider the humanity of the person who is driving to deliver their orders.
They are of course 100% within their rights to make that order and tip as they see fit, but it just increases the dissatisfaction and hatred toward the upper class from working-class people.
To be a member of the working poor — and to see that the rich really don't see you or your time as valuable — is very disheartening when you live in a place where there's a McMansion 15 to 20 yards away from a trailer park.
There are two main supercenters in my area: Walmart store No. 5260, which is south of town on Pleasant Crossing Boulevard, and Walmart store No. 1, which is located in the middle of Rogers.
Pleasant Crossing is near the rich part of town, while the Rogers store is located in the heart of old downtown Rogers, closer to the nursing homes and apartment complexes. It's not the worst part of town, but it's also not exactly the best.
Even so, I'll try anything I can to stick to the store downtown, because I know I'm going to end up with better tips.
It's the same thing when you talk to other types of delivery workers in the area. Whether they deliver pizzas or drive for DoorDash, they'll tell you the same thing: We'd rather stay close to the hood and near the bars, because we know we're going to get better tips.
These experiences leave me disappointed, but not surprised.
I grew up here, and I've experienced living at many economic levels in northwest Arkansas.
Whether I was living with my parents when I was younger, working at a great-paying corporate gig, or being a single parent, I've had my share of financial ups and downs.
There is a major disconnect in this country between how we value time based on our present position in society, and how we value other people's time based on their position.
I'm not going to say those people living in the gated community don't deserve to be in that gated community. Whether it's by virtue of birth or hard work, they're there.
But to forget what it's like to not live in that gated community — to forget or not even understand because you've had access to wealth for multiple generations — to not know what it's like to rely on tip income to survive and to protect and provide for your family is just disheartening to see.
There needs to be a conversation about how people who are in positions of economic power view and value those who aren't — and how they rely on our labor.
If you think I should be paid a fair wage and shouldn't rely on tips, don't use services that require me to not have a fair wage and to rely on tips.
The only time I use DoorDash or Spark is when I can afford a reasonable tip. I know the drivers get paid a certain amount from the store, and whenever I tip, I assume I'm the only order they'll have for that hour.
So I try to make sure they're making at least $15 an hour because they're letting me stay home and not put on hard pants.
I think my time and their time are worth that $15, and that's why I think the tipping culture is different between those who have a lot and those who are just getting by.
As somebody who has been a waitress, if you don't have money to tip, you don't have money to go out to eat.
If you can't tip me to serve you a meal, you should probably pick up your order or go to a drive-thru.
When asked for comment on this story, a Walmart spokesperson referred Business Insider to a prior statement on tipping.
"We understand tipping is an important part of the driver experience and are proud that most customers leave tips," the spokesperson said, adding that drivers retain 100% of customer tips. "We're continuously exploring new features and enhancements to give drivers the best possible experience."
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